Think of British men, and what image leaps to mind?
Thanks to a headline-hungry media that loves to exaggerate extremes, our national character tends to fall into one of three absurd caricatures.
At one end of the social spectrum, we have the upper-crust “toff”; a posh, emotionally-suppressed chap, who probably owns a country estate and takes tea with the Queen.
At the other end of the ladder, we have the “lager lout” – widely considered Britain’s worst export since the Empire. He’s a foul-mouthed, beer swilling, promiscuous, sexist, football hooligan who roams the world looking for trouble.
In recent years, we’ve also added the “metrosexual”: a grooming- and body-obsessed narcissist who’s simultaneously beefed up and blurred gender boundaries. While at first widely-mocked, the metrosexual is now a common fixture in most bars, gyms and high streets of the UK. Why? Because in the early Noughties, men who look after themselves became the most sexually successful.
Of course, real life isn’t like caricatures. While toffs, lager louts and metrosexual men do exist, they do not represent the vast majority of ordinary, British men any more than crass, loudmouthed jocks in Hawaiian shirts represent decent Americans.
So what is the truth?
To find out who the men are behind the headlines, ahead of Harry’s launch in the UK, we decided to find out.
To do this, we teamed up with the experts at University College London and conducted the biggest and most academically robust survey into British masculinity ever.
Originally called the Men’s Core Values & Wellbeing survey, it became the Harry’s Masculinity Report 2017, published this week.
Over the summer of 2017, we spoke to 2200 British men aged 18-85, and asked: what core values do they aspire to? From money and work, to relationships, family, friendships and the perfect body, what truly makes them happy?
First, using a unique and devilishly clever questionnaire, the survey’s lead Dr John Barry (I co-wrote the questions) was able to determine British men’s Positive Mental Index. In short, we were able to determine which British men were the most content with their lot.
Next, we looked at what gave these men the greatest sense of wellbeing. Working backwards, we were thus able to map out a route to male happiness.
What we discovered shattered the cliches of British masculinity – and proves British men are embracing a new, positive masculinity, retaining and cherishing traditional aspects they still value, while ditching negative aspects which do not, and simultaneously adding progressive, new values to aid their mental health and wellbeing.
Top of the most aspired to core values were reliability and dependability, with 97% of men saying these were moderately to very important to them.
Next were honesty (96%) and loyalty (95%) while the least valued attributes were self-centred concerns such as athleticism (59%) or adventurousness (67%)
We were able to establish that the happiest men in the UK, more than anything, valued hard work. Job satisfaction was, by a country mile, the most important factor. Among men who are above average in positivity, 78% are satisfied with their work, making a rewarding job by far the strongest predictor of positive state of mind.
Next was relationship status, and the more committed British men, the happier they are. Incredibly, single men were the least happy of all – less content than divorcés and even widowers. But why?
When I put these findings to British men for an article published in The Times, we discovered modern dating apps like Tinder were flipping gendered power, which was challenging for some men. We discovered that while it’s never been easier to get sex, it’s perhaps never been harder to fall in love.
Elsewhere, to give hope to the middle-aged – and, yes, even the young – British men’s lives really do get better with age. The older men in this study were significantly more positive than their younger counterparts.
But the huge, breakthrough moment for us was the welcome discovery that, for the first time in any study of its kind, British men valued their mental health above physical health. In a nation where suicide is the biggest killer of men aged under 50 (12 British men a day take their own lives) this is long overdue.
Inspired by a new frankness displayed by the Royal family and key celebrities, progressive, 21st Century British men are ready to talk – but are we ready to listen?
Athleticism – attaining the perfect body – was the least desired of all core values, with only 59% ranking it as very important. British value health highly, but as a supplementary benefit to mental health, as opposed to a shallow, one-dimensional solution to happiness
Here, we discovered that team sports – and the banter and, yes, even the beers after – can be a great boon to positive mindset when compared to the more solitary pursuit of gym culture.
Next, the Harry’s Masculinity Report will be formally launched at an event chaired by myself at the Houses of Parliament on November 16th, ahead of International Men’s Day on 19th November. In attendance will be supportive politicians, mental health campaigners, celebrities – and Harry’s co-founder Jeff Raider.
The Harry’s Masculinity Report turned out to not only be an epic journey into the heart of British masculinity. It also became a springboard to call for governmental action on men’s mental wellbeing.
In 25 years as a journalist, it’s perhaps the piece of work I’m most proud of, and one we hope to replicate in the USA.
As Jeff Raider, Co-founder of Harry’s, adds: “We built Harry’s to reflect our passions and values, including our belief that companies should make the world a better place. We conducted the study because we wanted to better understand the British Man. We are proud to have supported this research, which shows that the modern British man very much shares our values. We hope that this research can be a springboard for a conversation about healthy manhood, and we very much look forward to being part of that discussion”.
The Harry’s Masculinity Report showed that in testing times, British men can still be united by our positivity; our bonds of decency. Who knows? Perhaps you Yankees could learn something from us emotionally stifled Brits, after all?
And, if together we can do that, it should make us all feel incredibly proud to be men.